Lititz worked hard to become America's Coolest Small Town, and now it's reaping the rewards. The title came from Budget Travel magazine, which conducts an annual contest for the moniker. Lit
"You have a year like this year, and something actually just clicked and it seems like everything's falling into place," Withum said.
But she doesn't see the coolness and the cash crowd it's bringing Lititz as a windfall. The community has been working hard for years to make Lititz vibrant enough to draw visitors — emphasizing its admittedly abundant attractions, performing targeted marketing and planning myriad events.
Withum traces the beginning of Lititz's renaissance from the time when General Sutter Inn on the square was for sale and some locals with foresight bought it to preserve its character. They also bought real estate downtown and kept the rents low enough to prevent vacancies, which aided the efforts of Venture Lititz when it arrived on the scene, she said.
The work that followed was, in Withum's words, boring — doing ZIP code trade area studies to determine the primary, secondary and tertiary markets, then formulating campaigns accordingly — "but it's the stuff that makes a change."
Working with local nonretail businesses also was important, Withum said, rattling off a list including Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., Sauder's Eggs, Listrak, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, and the Clair Global entertainment cluster and its Rock Lititz campus plans.
"All of this industry that is growing, all of that helps the downtown," she said.
Workers have lunch hours to spend, and recently even the type of workers that have been attracted to the area has led the historic town in an edgier direction that has Withum enthusiastic. Young people who grew up here and went away to college are coming back to settle down, she said, and Lititz is becoming known as a foodie town.
"A lot of the trends show that spending on some areas are going away, but for food-beverage things like that, it's still there and climbing," Withum said.
Asked about a downside to the Coolest Small Town win, Withum said one of last year's winners — Beaufort, N.C, and Hammondsport, N.Y., tied — warned her that people would come plugging promotions with big price tags. But, she said, they're easy to say no to. Lititz has been keeping its eye on its goals for a long time now, and it's not about to stop.
Retailers on the coolness
"We have seen a dramatic increase in visitors but more importantly visitors who have come expecting to make purchases during their visit. We have personally realized increased traffic from our neighboring markets, which are those individuals who are within a two-hour drive of the Lititz community. People are discovering Lititz and experiencing that we are a vibrant and exciting destination for a day-trip but also deserving of an extended visit."
—Gaylord Poling, who owns Tiger's Eye with his wife, Nadine. Tiger's Eye is in its 17th year of business.
"Since the announcement hit the news a month or so ago, we've seen an immediate jump in visitors here in Lititz. I have had a much larger turnout of new people coming to town, not only from far away, but many who live in nearby towns. I've noticed more people from both the Hershey and Lebanon areas, as well as Chester County.
We have always been a destination-type store, relying on regulars from near and far who frequent our shop on a consistent basis. The tourists and nearby visitors are also important, but would not be enough to sustain our business. But I have seen a lot more out-of-town people exploring our 'coolest town,' and so we make it a point to welcome them and hand out our Lititz booklets with the shopping map. We also suggest visiting the historic locations and coming back to visit during our big festivals and other events.
Over the past five years, I've seen many changes in the mix of stores in town. We seem to have fewer craft shops and instead have more food-related stores. We now have the Olio olive oil shop on South Broad and Zest! kitchen shop on Main Street, the three of us forming a perfect triangle in the center of town. We all send our customers to visit the others, often calling ahead to check on items the customer may be looking for. A similar thing is now happening with the craft beer crowd, with the inclusion of Appalachian Brewing Company, The Sturgis Haus and the coming addition of JoBoy's Brew Pub."
—John Peris, owner of The Savory Gourmet, which has been in Lititz for five years
"Being selected America's Coolest Small Town has increased traffic into my shop by about 50 percent. Sales have increased by almost the same percentage.
Lititz is a treasure in that it is like 'old' towns across the United States where you know almost everyone in town, can give directions to Pete's place down the road, direct someone to another merchant's place of business if you don't carry what they want, have a cup if coffee with the newspaper editor, or just enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the water running through the Lititz Springs Park. Neighbors helping neighbors is what Lititz is about."
—Alice Bracken, co-owner of Zum Anker Alley Shoppes, which will celebrate its sixth anniversary in November